Celebrities

Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

There’s a scene in Spycatcher, a memoir by the retired MI5 counterintelligence officer Peter Wright, in which Wright and a colleague realize that there is a leak inside the intelligence service. In order to flush out the mole, Wright writes, “We decided to feed what is known in the business as a ‘barium meal,’ in other words, offer a bait of sufficiently important intelligence that the two-legged source, if he existed, would have to relay it back to the Russians.” A barium meal (sometimes called a “canary trap” or a “marked card”) — a piece of meticulously crafted false information, provided to a suspected leaker in the hopes they will pass it on and incriminate themselves — is a well-known counterintelligence technique, and its use has been documented by all of the world’s top intelligence agencies: MI5, the CIA, the Russian FSB, and Coleen Rooney, the wife of English soccer star Wayne Rooney.

In a tweet earlier today, Rooney revealed she’d set a canary trap by planting false information in her (private account’s) Instagram Stories, from which she’d blocked all followers but one. When tabloids wrote up news articles based on information they could only have gotten from those Instagram Stories, it became clear that only the single person watching Rooney’s stories could have leaked them. The noose had been tightened; in its grip was Rebekah Vardy, another WAG. (WAG stands for “Wives and Girlfriends,” and is used as a noun in the U.K. to describe the partner of a soccer star.)

Vardy, naturally, has responded on Twitter herself, insisting that she would never, how could Coleen do this while Rebekah is pregnant, etc. This is, first and foremost, absolutely top-notch celebrity gossip, even if you’re not a soccer fan. (I sense this story will do more to make soccer popular in the United States than the MLS ever has.) But I was struck when reading Rooney’s statement by the extent to which the ordeal had the smell of a national-security story: not just the relatively sophisticated counterintelligence technique Rooney used, but the amassing of evidence, the sudden announcement of the uncovered plot, the terse statement impeccably timed to cause damage. (Rooney made her accusation in the midst of the week-long international break in professional soccer, ensuring that she could dominate the soccer-related news-cycle.) It felt not entirely unlike the FBI’s surprise statement in 2010 that it had identified ten Russian spies, whom it had been monitoring for a decade, in the U.S. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to hear that Rebekah Vardy was being deported to The Sun in a prisoner swap with Rooney.

Famous people have always feuded with, backbit, and leaked on each other, of course. But it’s rare to see such a formal declaration, or one that uses such advanced methods — a sort of next-generation, Cold War version of the hot war Kanye West and Kim Kardashian waged on Taylor Swift. We increasingly think of the internet’s megaplatforms as state- or government-like entities, and perhaps we should start thinking of celebrities (who are, these days, only the front-facing chief executives of a complex backstage brand machinery) in the same way: The WAG as sovereign institution, fiercely protective of its informational borders, engaged in sophisticated protections of its self-determination — which is to say, in this environment, its ability to determine how it is covered and what kinds of attention are paid to it.

Or maybe that’s taking it too far. Maybe it suffices to say that this era of social media has a tendency to make spies of us all. We scroll through Instagram and analyzing intelligence from vast feeds of data; what better way to describe the project of understanding the shifting conditions on the ground of a social platform than espionage? What are social networks anyway if not grey markets in occupied territory, sites of contested influence campaigns, zones of competition and combat conducted under semi-concealed, cloak-and-dagger rules? Just, you know, for clout, instead of for geopolitical advantage. If Coleen Rooney is paranoid, it’s only as much as James Jesus Angleton and the CIA ever were. If the people reading your feed are potentially enemy assets, why shouldn’t you be engaged in vigilant counterintelligence? Watch out for marked cards, gossips.

Coleen Rooney, Instagram Spycatcher

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the national interest

Celebrities

the national interest

Official Reveals Trump’s ‘Exact Call’ With Zelensky Was Edited Down

By Jonathan Chait

The “rough transcript” is a cover-up, Vindman testifies to Congress.

Celebrities

climate change

Rising Seas Are Going to Drown Way More Cities Than We’d Thought: Study

By Eric Levitz

In a low-warming scenario, we expected rising tides to cover areas currently occupied by 37 million people. The real number is closer to 150 million.


impeachment season

Celebrities

impeachment season

House Will Officially Authorize Impeachment Proceedings After All

By Ed Kilgore

Nancy Pelosi decided to take the very step Republicans have been angrily demanding, but they will angrily oppose it anyway.

intelligencer chats

Celebrities

intelligencer chats

Will Condé Nast As We Know It Exist in a Decade?

By Benjamin Hart and Reeves Wiedeman

Intelligencer staffers discuss the prognosis for the diminished but still powerful magazine empire.

Another trip to the polls in the UK as the Brexit saga continues on

The UK is set to go to the polls on 12 December after MPs backed Boris Johnson’s call for an election following months of Brexit deadlock.

By a margin of 438 votes to 20, the House of Commons approved legislation paving the way for the first December election since 1923.

The bill is still to be approved by the Lords but could become law by the end of the week.

If that happens, there will be a five-week campaign up to polling day.

It’s a very humane administration

he United States is on track to not admit any refugees in October, after already canceling around 500 flights this month, CNN has learned.

A pause on admissions that was expected to lift on Tuesday will now extend into November, leaving those who expected to resettle in the US in limbo. It also means additional travel will need to be canceled and re-booked at the expense of federal taxpayers.

The moratorium will run through November 5, according to a State Department spokesperson. “We will work with our implementing partners to plan for a resumption of refugee arrivals, including rescheduling travel for those affected by the extension,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

democratic primaries

Celebrities

democratic primaries

Elizabeth Warren’s Growing List of Anti-Endorsements

By Adam K. Raymond

From Wall Street fat cats to Mark Zuckerberg, she has all the right enemies.


the national interest

Celebrities

the national interest

If Trump Is Impeached or Defeated, Conservatives Will Call It a ‘Coup’

By Jonathan Chait

The rhetoric of violence on the right.


Celebrities

the top line

Peter Luger Steak House Was Always Bad

By Josh Barro

Even cookie-cutter corporate competitors deliver more consistent food and better experience. Which is precisely why the hype has never made any sense.

The Getty Fire in L.A. slows, for now

The Getty fire, which broke out shortly after 1:30 a.m. Monday along the 405 Freeway near the Getty Center, quickly spread into neighborhoods, charring 658 acres, burning several homes and sending people fleeing in the dark. The fire was 5% contained as of early Tuesday.

Favorable weather conditions — including elevated humidity and diminished wind speeds — helped firefighters slow the growth of the blaze overnight despite flare-ups east of Tigertail Road in Brentwood, where homes had burned hours earlier. …

With about 1,100 firefighters battling the blaze, crews’ main objective Tuesday will be to boost containment ahead of extreme Santa Ana winds set to arrive overnight and into early Wednesday. The gusts are expected to be the worst the region has seen this season, said LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas.

Celebrities

vision 2020

This Democratic Senator Won’t Commit to Voting for Her Party in 2020

By Eric Levitz

Kyrsten Sinema is positioning herself to the right of Democrats from much redder states. That could be a problem for progressives in 2021.


Celebrities

vision 2020

South Carolina Priest Denies Joe Biden Communion Over Pro-Choice Views

The Rise of the Online Entrepreneur

Mass Exposure For Anyone That Requires An Online Presence

Become a founding member

By Ed Kilgore

It’s an old if sporadic problem for Catholic pro-choice politicians.

Celebrities

centrism

Pete for Corporate America

By Sarah Jones

There’s a gap between Buttigieg’s man-of-the-people routine and his politics.

Biden drops to third in latest New Hampshire poll

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (21%) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (18%) are in a close race among likely voters in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Democratic presidential primary, according to a new CNN poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire.

Former Vice President Joe Biden stands a shade behind at 15%, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg rounds out the field of four who reach double-digits with 10%.

Celebrities

u.s. senate

Jeff Sessions May Seek Old Senate Seat Despite Crowded Field

By Ed Kilgore

Will Donald Trump vengefully drop a hammer on his former attorney general?

A respite, at least temporarily, from the strictest abortion law in the country

BREAKING: A federal judge has blocked an Alabama abortion ban that would make the procedure a felony in nearly all cases.

@DavidBegnaud

Celebrities

politics

Trump’s Own Officials Question Claim That Baghdadi Was ‘Crying’: Report

By Adam K. Raymond

The Pentagon has also failed to confirm Trump’s claim.

Celebrities

power

Representative Katie Hill Resigns in Midst of Scandal

By Madeleine Aggeler

The democratic congresswoman was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an aide. But things are more complicated than that.

Lebanon PM out amid massive protests

Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri resigns after nearly two weeks of nationwide anti-corruption protests. Says country needs “big shock” to system

@DionNissenbaum

Celebrities

gerrymandering

State Court Tosses GOP’s Gerrymandered Congressional Map in North Carolina

By Ed Kilgore

Republican boasts about partisan motives for maps challenged, as an illegal racial gerrymander backfired.


the national interest

Celebrities

the national interest

Republicans Smear Army Vet Testifying Against Trump as a Ukrainian Spy

By Jonathan Chait

Lt. Col. Vindman is disloyal for going around Trump’s private lawyer who was being paid by the Russian Mafia.

Things are coming to a head in Lebanon, where huge protests have erupted in recent weeks

With Lebanon’s prime minister poised to speak and possibly ready to resign, Hezbollah supporters attack main anti-corruption protest sites in downtown Beirut, set tents ablaze as police try to restore calm.

@DionNissenbaum

They will likely decline to comment (except maybe Mitt Romney and Susan Collins)

The talking point last night & now this morning from the President’s TV defenders is that Lt. Col. Vindman (Purple Heart, Iraq), whose family fled the Soviet Union for the U.S. when he was 3, can’t be trusted because of his Ukrainian heritage. Do congressional Republicans agree?

@WillieGeist

Just a slight difference

EU Amb. Gordon Sondland now tells Congress that there was a quid pro quo involved with Ukraine after previously denying it, Wall Street Journal reports. https://t.co/S8js2Zww25

@MSNBC

It’s not hard to imagine Trump endorsing Roy Moore over his former AG

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is strongly considering jumping into the race for his old Senate seat in Alabama, according to multiple Republican sources familiar with the matter.

Sessions would scramble the already crowded field of Republicans seeking to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who won a 2017 special election to fill the remainder of Sessions’ term and is widely viewed as the most vulnerable senator on the ballot next year.

Sessions served in the Senate for two decades before being tapped by President Donald Trump to lead the Justice Department. The two had a bitter, public falling out over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the DOJ’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Sessions, 72, must decide within days whether to run: Candidates have until Nov. 8 to qualify for the ballot.

Celebrities

profile

Chelsea Clinton Is Figuring Out Her Own Life Now

By Jonathan Van Meter

The odd situation of the former First Daughter in 2019.


trump impeachment

Celebrities

trump impeachment

White House Official to Testify That Trump-Ukraine Call Raised Security Concerns

By Matt Stieb

Alexander Vindman, the first current White House official to testify on impeachment, reported his concerns after listening to Trump’s Zelensky call.

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